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From the Warehouse to the C-Suite: A Fox School MBA’s Journey

February 13, 2018 //
J.W. Pepper & Son chief strategy officer Scott Grady, MBA ’17.

“I started at the bottom, literally at the lowest position in the company,” says Scott Grady about the job he landed in 1996, the year after he graduated from high school. It was with J.W. Pepper & Son, the 142-year-old Pennsylvania company that’s now the world’s largest sheet music retailer.

“I walked around the warehouse pulling customer orders all day,” Grady continues. “The way the orders were organized—and we’re talking about a thousand orders a day—was illogical to me. So I devised a system to help the order flow be smoother. That was noticed by upper management and it sent me on my way.”

That was 22 years ago. Grady still works at J.W. Pepper & Son, but now he’s in a C-suite position. In 2017, the same year Grady earned his MBA from the Fox School, he was promoted to chief strategy officer (CSO).

Upward bound

Grady began climbing the ladder at J.W. Pepper & Son soon after devising that new order system back in his warehouse days. In 2001, he was relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area and tasked with opening a new sales and marketing office. In his nine years out west, he earned a business degree and rose from being operations manager to vice president and regional marketing manager.

He returned to the Philadelphia area in 2010, this time as J.W. Pepper & Son’s vice president of brand strategy.

“It was a defining moment for me,” recalls Grady. “I had worked in many different roles, from operations and management to marketing, but this was a senior leadership role working closely with the core brand and new brands. I had to learn how to be entrepreneurial inside of a company that was 140-years-old—that’s when I decided I needed to get an MBA.”

The Fox Online MBA experience

Grady entered the Fox School’s Online MBA program in 2015. As a working professional with a hectic schedule and senior level responsibilities, he was drawn to the flexibility of the online format. He was also skeptical, namely about the lack of direct interaction with fellow students. But the program’s in-person residency, held at the Fox School’s Alter Hall at the beginning of the first semester, was a major perk.

Online MBA students meet during a residency held at Alter Hall, home of the Fox School of Business.

“I was afraid that, since it was an online program, I’d be too far removed from people,” he says. “But the residency brought us together and it was a defining experience. I learned so much and I’m still friends with many of the other students. It was great to work and network with professionals who were already in the field doing great things.”

“Every day,” he says about his two years in the program, “there was so much practical work application for what I was learning. Balancing the work load wasn’t the biggest challenge, it was figuring out how to apply everything. What I learned from the entrepreneurship class, about business models, is something I apply in almost every business meeting now.”

The C-suite demands confidence

Grady, in his current role as CSO, is responsible for managing a portfolio of projects and initiatives, a team of developers and business analysts, and new mergers and acquisitions. One of Grady’s main focuses with J.W. Pepper & Son, whose biggest client in the sheet music game is public school music programs, is bringing new technology initiatives to music classrooms. He recently helped launch Cut Time, a group management tool for music educators. And last year, he oversaw his first acquisition.

Grady regularly applies what he learned from his MBA at J.W. Pepper & Son. He says the most important skill he acquired was how to be a confident decision maker.

“At this level,” says Grady, “you have to be a confident decision maker. You have to earn people’s trust and you have to be decisive. You have to look at all the angles and to make sense of all the incoming information, and then make decisions that will effect the entire business. Being able to make these big decisions is the number one thing the MBA gave me.”

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